Joelle Hann

Life in the Straw Village: Basic Luxury in Kajuraho, India


You Really Can Get Attached to Anything

It’s been an interesting process of getting used to living outside in India.

The huts are exactly the same

The huts are exactly the same

“Living” means: sleeping, changing, writing, reading, resting, bathing, and answering nature’s calls IN STRAW HUTS. We have real flush toilets (as opposed to squat toilets), buckets for “showering,” and outside sinks (which makes for chilly teeth brushing in the pre-dawn hours when we stumble off to meditation).

There was never any soap at the sinks

There was never any soap at the sinks

“Outside” means: we have the illusion of privacy as well as some real shelter. That illusion is worth a lot.

But the huts are not warm. And many leak. We’ve had several loud and violent storms to test out their waterproofness—and mudproofness and damproofness. I’d give them about 50/50.

Inside our straw castles. Four to a hut! Mosquito nets strung between bamboo poles; industrial green carpet (over straw over mud) keeps out the worst of the damp.

Inside our straw castles. Four to a hut! Mosquito nets strung between bamboo poles; industrial green carpet (over straw over mud) keeps out the worst of the damp.

You know a lot about your “eco hut”—and yourself— after two days of torrential rain in an area that is not supposed to have rain as the clay earth sluices down the paths and makes a mud dam in front of your hut.

A strip of yellow silk in the doorway brightens up our huts

A strip of yellow silk in the doorway brightens up our huts

And the huts definitely do not protect us from the sounds of neighbors. Who knew that SO many people snore so loudly?

For us middle class Westerners, this way of living is a practice of austerity.

But as we’ve been reminded, for locals in Allahabad and Kajuraho, the way we are living is luxurious.

Toilets and showers

Toilets and showers

I will admit that this is a step up from tent camping. I am writing this from inside my hut, for example, sitting at a metal table with a blue plastic tablecloth stretched over it. We have metal cots off the ground, and clothes lines, plus lawn-green carpeting to protect us from mud and dust.

And one thing I know: I can get attached to anything. Anything at all.

I got attached to the readily available WiFi in Kajuraho. Even the cold, cold nights, bathing outside from a bucket was bearable if I had WiFi to make Facebook updates and write blog entries (only slightly kidding).

You haul in hot water with one bucket, mix it with cold from the spigot, then pour over you with the cup provided. Bucket bath!

You haul in hot water with one bucket, mix it with cold from the spigot, then pour over you with the cup provided. Bucket bath!

That disappeared in Kajuraho. But the bucket baths and cold temperatures remained. Wah-wa.

In Kajuraho, I got attached to hut 7 where I weathered the interminable storms. Hut 7 almost flooded in the mud sluice, was crowded with 2 women from Duluth, another from Chicago, and me. It was damp and damp and damp. And damp. Then musty. My bed was both sloped downwards and tilted to the side like a permanent Tilt-a-Whirl.

Bucket bath set up–close up. Basic, basic, basic.

Bucket bath set up–close up. Basic, basic, basic.

And yet I felt anxiety when I had to move into hut 49.

(Now the question is: what do I care whether I’m in straw hut 7 or straw hut 49?! They are exactly the same, just positioned slightly differently towards the bathrooms. Still I got fixated for a few hours on how much worse hut 49 was going to be. I had established my patterns and I didn’t want to budge. This is the stuff I came to India to deal with?!?! Answer: yes.)

But after two or three days in hut 49, I had completely forgotten about the charms of hut 7.

So it goes.

Campus gets pretty after torrential rains

Campus gets pretty after torrential rains

Most of us have gotten comfortable with this quasi-camping set up.

Temperatures are getting warmer now and days are brighter. I don’t have to wear every single piece of clothing I brought to India when I go to bed. I don’t have to wait for a warm patch in the day to bathe (or just skip it for a few days until bathing is urgent).

I don’t mind doing laundry by hand. And every time I shower now, I’m sure to wash some undies. Life has become easier.

72-yr-old Sylvia does laundry by hand at the hot-water station

72-yr-old Sylvia does laundry by hand at the hot-water station

And there are some surprise boons. After all that rain, the desert campus has sprung into bloom. Ceramic pots of marigolds, cosmos, and asters line the paths and decorate the huts. The trees are sparkling green.

Birds have arrived in abundance: green parrots, eagles, sparrows, a large swallow-like bird, peacocks, neelkanth, and many many others that sing and chirp and whir. In fact, a pair of sparrows just flew into my hut!

After the rain

After the rain

At night the jackals howl their mysteriously poignant songs arching back and forth across the hills. The farmers answer them with their ghostly shrieks meant to scare away nilgai—the large antelope/deer/horse-like creature that tramples crops (the male is actually blue colored).

Himalayan Institute campus, Kajuraho

Himalayan Institute campus, Kajuraho

Most of us have forgotten our discomfort in the straw village, our Western privileges, proving that you really can get used to anything.

Even basic luxury can be luxurious.

Sherry, Sylvia and I go into town for lunch–breaking out!

Sherry, Sylvia and I go into town for lunch–breaking out!

And now some people don’t want to go back to their easy showers and toilets, central heating and A/C.

You really can get attached to anything.

Kunda (fire pit) at the special banyan tree

Kunda (fire pit) at the special banyan tree


Paint Your Plate


Discover a Culinary Rainbow With Simple Summer Recipes That Pack a Colorful and Nutritious Punch

Summer’s abundance presents a tantalizing problem: how do we choose what to eat from this embarrassment of riches? One way to organize your pleasant amblings through the farmer’s market is to shop by color. As simple as this sounds, the concept is backed by research. Phytochemicals, the vitamins and minerals found in plants that give them their brilliant hues, have been found to prevent and treat disease, and we require a variety of these nutrients from across the color spectrum to stay healthy.

When you “eat your colors,” as Michael Pollan advises in his book Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual (and maybe your mother also mentioned), you get healthy doses of fiber, potassium, and vitamin C, as well as antioxidants, such as carotenoids and flavonoids. These protect our cells from the effects of environmental toxins and from free radicals, which increase dramatically as we age, and in turn age us. Antioxidants have also been shown to help battle heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

Vegan chef and cookbook author Colleen Patrick-Goudreau says shopping and cooking by color actually makes nutrition easier. Simply look at your basket: folate makes kale green, betacyanin makes beets red, lutein makes corn yellow, beta-carotene makes mangos and carrots orange, and so on. Try buying and cooking a different color every week, or assembling the most colorful dishes you can.

Blueberries, a key ingredient in the chilled blueberry mango soup recipe that follows, are packed with one of the most powerful antioxidants around, anthocyanin. The avocados, peppers and greens in the accompanying summer salad provide lutein, more antioxidants, folate, vitamins A, C, and K, and manganese.

These refreshing summer recipes are simple to prepare and require the freshest ingredients available (buy organic when possible). They taste as rich as the season, and their appetizing rainbow of colors provides excellent support for overall vitality.

Read the full article, plus recipes, here.

One Poem: Order


Let’s deal with the brilliant forsythia
and the strangle of lilacs

that beside the train tracks bloom
and burn, yellow, mauve, erratic, effusive,

firing flames beside the train’s upstate roar
even as it shrieks by at no matter what speed

tell these seasons they can’t go on like this—
oh just a glimpse of the sparkling Hudson

before the train fires on
is not enough! Endless river,

always passing, blooms yearly dying:
give us more order—

or less.
From the train I spot

a man on a Hudson river barge,
who waves to me with a big smile

and I wave back.

From behind windows so darkly tinted
he may not see me

waving anyway, waving and waving—

Fierce Medicine: Breakthrough Practices to Heal the Body and Ignite the Spirit: Book Review


This generous and straight-talking book showcases Ana Forrest’s intelligence and creativity as a healer, while dipping into memoir to detail the extreme abuse she suffered as a child. Born crippled, Forrest (the creator of Forrest Yoga) was imprisoned, drugged, starved, and raped from the age of two, and started drinking alcohol at four. At six, she began working in a nearby stable to escape her sadistic family, and, at 17, while working as a horse trainer, she attempted suicide by jumping off a cliff. As remarkable as her recovery from these soul-crushing experiences is her perspective—rebellious, inquisitive, and clear-eyed.

The exercises in Fierce Medicine are drawn from Native American and yogic traditions, and are designed to help readers step up their own healing practices and step into their intuitive powers. Forrest’s uncompromising approach to herself and compassionate approach to others declares that we can all overcome life’s trials, whatever they may be, and find radical joy in our existence.


Brazil – Last Minute and on a Shoestring

Old stone houses in Recife, Brazil.

Old stone houses in Recife, Brazil.

My first visit to Brazil in 2004 began a love affair with the country and its culture that has required return trips.

My first trip was to magical Salvador de Bahia in the northeast where music is everywhere and the vibe is relaxed and super fun. Subsequent trips took me to to Recife (above) to study with a yogi, the urban centers of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, and the island city of Florianopolis where my Portuguese teacher (from Brooklyn) spent 2007-2008.

Brazil was wilder than I could have imagined: the food was strange and intriguing, the people were warm and funny; the country had a rich, dark history and could be fantastically beautiful.

Breakfast in Brazil consists of lots of delicious fresh fruit, cakes, coffee, eggs, ham, cheese, yogurt and some unidentifiable things.

Breakfast in Brazil consists of lots of delicious fresh fruit, cakes, coffee, eggs, ham, cheese, yogurt and some unidentifiable things.

But at almost 5,000 miles from New York, Brazil is not a weekend destination. For my last trip, in 2007, I paid with points—otherwise the ticket would have been around $1300 US.

This year, a friend in Rio (who had lived in New York until 2002) tipped me off about cheap airfares. Through, a company that specializes in travel to Brazil, I got a ticket to Rio for $361 US (with taxes, $474) just 8 days before departure. Since this kind of bargain is so rare (probably a product of the swine flu scare), I hustled to clear my schedule and get on a plane. (Which, by the way, I almost missed with the slow subway connections and my obsessive avoidance of downtime at the airport!)

It’s pretty much impossible to get a ticket that cheap–and yet I was anxious. I’m supposed to be saving money, not spending! And even as a great deal, $500 is still $500.

But I went. Suddenly—almost absurdly fast—I was in Rio! Damp stone walls, erratic drivers, miles and miles and miles of favelas (shantytowns), men in long shorts and flip flops, that languid walking pace, people sitting in botecos (little bars with finger foods), drinking choppe (draft beer)–and of course, the incredible beach.

Guys playing paddle ball in Florianopolis.

Guys playing paddle ball in Florianopolis.

I needed an afternoon nap to shake off the flight. For dinner, we went down to Copacobana to an Italian place, Trattoria, whose special was “Obama Spaghetti with Mussels!” We had golden sole with garlic sauce, and rice cut with greens, a bottle of wine. The exchange rate is just better than 2:1 right now, and in the end my friend paid. Very frugal!

The next night I paid. We went to a place called Galeto, a counter-style rotisserie, also in Copacobana, open into the street, where you eat roast chicken (galinho is a rooster). There was a line. But when we finally got a stool at the “S”-shaped counter, we had a plate of galeto (two small cut-up chickens), and other plates of salad, rice with greens, and farofa (toasted manioc meal) with egg. And very cold Bohemie beers. Delicious! All served by a serious, licensed roaster in a vest and glasses. $20 for two.

Although it’s fall there, we had some hot and sunny days. The day after my arrival was in the high 80s and the beaches were packed—an incredible variety of people swam, surfed, read, napped, played volley ball and paddle ball. It was easy to spot the tourists–they just didn’t look as comfortable in their skin as the locals. The constant stream of vendors made sure you were never without anything, from ice cream to beer to hot cheese (the hot-cheese guys carry around a little brickette-powered oven). I didn’t buy anything except a fresh coconut for the water (coco gelado) overpriced at $1.50, but still worth the experience.

On Sunday I went up to the hill-top neighborhood of Santa Teresa, an artists and ex-pat community far from the beach throngs below. There, I met friends of friends for afternoon choppe and a workout of my rusty Portuguese. Someone bought a litre bottle of beer and all of us had little cups from the bar, then, people who joined the conversation topped up our glasses as is customary. It’s easy to drink a lot in a short time, with all the comings and goings. Especially when you’re nervously covering up your language skills….

From the bar, Bar do Mineiro, I was invited to a lunch party, a big spread of traditional feijoada, at a nearby house poised on the side of a cliff. Monkeys swung in the trees, kids played in the pool, and adults from Brazil, Germany, Argentina and the US drank on the vast stone veranda that overlooked the city. The food never stopped coming–rice, beans, 5 kinds of meat, thinly cut cooked greens, farofa, fired aipim, and then three kinds of dessert. A tour of the enormous, 4-floor house made me wonder if perhaps I should give up my frugal ways and try to live more decadently…

At the end of the afternoon, after a stroll down the cobble-stoned streets in the lowering sun, I stopped with a new friend for a coffee and we listed to a trio play chorro, a melancholy music with a sweet lilt to it. I recognized many of the songs as traditional favorites. I bought my friend his espresso, my only expense of the day.

Bargain hunting, friends in the know, and the ability to leave at a moment’s notice are all key moves for the frugal traveler to South America.

Travel organizations will often tout themselves as experts only to serve up higher fares than you can find yourself on Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity, or airlines’ sites. So ask friends and acquaintances who frequently travel to your dream destination where to shop for low fares. Often, they will tip you off about which companies to trust and which to avoid—and what have changed since the last time you went.

Check Travelocity or Orbitz first, then check out the airlines that they list as offering low fares. Often, Delta or United or American Airlines‘ prices are slightly lower still. And, buying tickets directly from the airline means the tickets are more flexible—easier to upgrade or change if necessary. Once you buy from outfits such as Orbitz, you can get locked in without easy or affordable ways out. 

Always fly direct unless you have lots of time to spare.

Going when the low fare is offered is also a help. True, because my trip was last minute, I could only secure a week away from work. But, with a friend picking me up at the airport, a free place to stay, and a 2:1 exchange rate in my favor, the trip was doable. And an affordable week on the beaches of Copacobana and Impanema is something I will never turn down. Nor should you.

Ken Wilber: Man of the Our


Ken Wilber thinks we could all benefit from adopting each other's philosophies.


Ken Wilber, founder of the Integral Institute, has written more than two dozen books. In his latest, the forthcoming Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World (Integral Books, $23), the scholar draws on science, psychology, philosophy and world religions to argue that an integral understanding of them all will benefit our lives more than a my-way-or-the-highway attitude. On Friday 8 and Saturday 9, he brings his complex theories to the masses, joining Tibetan Buddhist monk Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche at the New York Society for Ethical Culture for a program titled “Spirituality and the Modern World.”

Photograph: Roxana Marroquin

Photograph: Roxana Marroquin

What is the “integral approach”?
It’s a map of human capacities and tools developed by comparing theories spanning the last 2,000 years—psychoanalysis, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, science, philosophy, etc. Common themes tend to emerge.

You say that modernist and postmodernist theories have trashed ancient thought, such as the world’s major religions. How?
The great metaphysical traditions contain extremely important truths about body, mind, soul and spirit, but express them in ways that made science—in this case, science is modernism—very suspicious. Science came in and said, “I need objective evidence.” And in part that was right: Those traditions couldn’t understand, for example, what’s going on with the brain’s chemistry during meditation. So half of what science did is really important. But the other half was a disaster; it reduced everything.

So science and religion became locked into a domestic dispute?
Yes [laughs]—of colossal proportions!

And it’s important to reconcile these ideas because otherwise we only profit from one body of knowledge instead of both?
Exactly. The integral approach finds common ground. Why should these things be fighting? It makes no sense whatsoever.

But now you’re coming to talk along with someone who is a master in one particular spirituality. Isn’t that counter to the integral approach?
You can use any tradition you want, including, in this case, Tibetan Buddhism, as a basis for the integral approach. People get excited because we don’t tell them what to think. They fill in the blanks themselves.

What do you hope will ultimately come of your theories of spirituality?
I hope we could all have a bigger view of things. There’s a lot of war in the world today—and virtually every answer to it is “Get rid of the other views.” It’s crazy—not once did somebody say, “Hey, wait a minute: Everybody’s right.”

Wellness: The Twisting and Turning Trends of the Season


Fall Preview 2006

The world of yoga will stretch in several new ways this season.

Yoga day spas: Area Yoga and Namaste Yoga were among the first to offer extras such as bodywork, nutrition counseling and even psychotherapy. Before you know it, you could be using your class card for a facial.

The slipping of savasana: When centers cram the content of a 90-minute session into 60 minutes of “express” yoga, savasana—the meditative relaxation that concludes each practice—is sometimes shortchanged, and is in danger of disappearing altogether.

Downward-facing daddy: First there was mommy yoga, then kids’ yoga, even dog yoga. A few family-unit classes have already popped up and we expect many more.

Small time: Big studios stay big by offering scads of basic classes to attract beginners. Veteran practitioners will flee to smaller studios (such as Kula Yoga Project, the Shala and Yoga Center of Brooklyn) in search of reliable, advanced classes taught by homegrown studio owners.

Alternative deities: Classes such as Jill Satterfield’s are fusing Buddhist principles with yoga practice. The 92nd Street Y and the JCC hope to launch Jewish yoga classes within the next year. It can’t be long before Christian yoga, popular in the Midwest, makes its way here.

Yogi passports: Based on the popularity of retreats in Costa Rica and Mexico, NYC studios are sponsoring studies farther afield; trips are planned to Brazil, Japan and Patagonia this year and next.

“Power” power yoga: Since sports-tailored classes—yoga for golfing, surfing and biking—will soon flourish, it can’t be long before career-performance classes sprout up. How about yoga for public speaking?


Critic's Pick: 100 Years of Solitude


In the 1970s, guru Paramahamsa Hariharananda (1907-2002) fell in love with New York and introduced thousands here to the meditation-focused methods of Kriya Yoga. By mastering breath, students delve into their psyches, hoping to free themselves of karmic debt and ultimately reach samadhi, or nirvana. As part of an international celebration of Hariharananda’s legacy and upcoming centenary, Kriya Yoga New York hosts A Celebration of Love and Peace Thursday 22 through Sunday 25. Workshops will be led by renowned sages of the Kriya Yoga lineage (which has included Mahatma Gandhi and the saints of the Bhagavad Gita). A film screening, photo exhibition and, on Sunday 25, a discussion at the Rubin Museum titled “Path of Yogis: A Dialogue” are also on the bill. All events at Morocco Studio except the Sunday 25 discussion at the Rubin Museum. See listing.


The Zone: Union Square, Yoga HQ


On Mon 1, Jivamukti Yoga School, a giant among centers, opens its highly anticipated, eco-friendly new studio. The 12,000-square-foot space features floors made of recycled tires and a vegan café designed by natural-food chef Matthew Kenney. It also consolidates Union Square as a mecca for practitioners: East West Yoga opened in January; nearby Be Yoga relaunches this month as Yoga Works; heavy-hitters OM Yoga and Bikram Yoga Union Square have been booming since 2003; and at least five other studios exist in the area. Things have certainly changed since Kundalini Yoga East struggled to find an area landlord willing to rent it space in 1994. Some yogis anticipate competition, but not Sky Meltzer of Yoga Works: “More places means more yoga for everyone.” Let the sweat begin.

Jivamukti Yoga School, 841 Broadway at 13th St, second floor (212-353-0214).


Five Poems: Progress, All in a Row, Wasp, Day after Day, Meteorologist



Since the highrises and the fancy dock 
went in, Byzantium looks like Florida 
or the coast of Spain—

working people on holiday 
with palm fronds and sickly drinks.

A lot of concrete.

After three hours on the beach,
carrying a small volume of Yeats,
I don’t care for exposed flesh anymore.

I just want my little flask
and to never take off my sunglasses.
It’s not pleasant to expose myself 
whenever I want to.

I want lapus lazuli and priests,
birds of prayer and gold leaf. 
I want Isaiah and the fervor
of Greek or Russian Orthodox, 
stone walls, exclusion and mystery.

I apply zinc to my nose and slowly get drunk.
Tide is out.
No sailing tonight.
No Byzantium.

All in a Row

I adopt two cows
and like a dilletante walk them to slaughter.

Buildings made of hay bales:
Manhattan a farm.

All in a row,
everyone’s cows.

Mine wait brainlessly,
don’t try to escape.
                      They hang their heads low:
bovine depression.


I’d been drinking
in the kitchen.

A wasp on the landing looked lost,
its nose pressed
to the painted wood.

Its wings hummed along
to a private philosophical problem 
or maybe it was waiting out an exit.

My foot in the expert’s shoe
squared off above it
cracked down
killed it. 
                         A kind 
death, I thought, 
no delusions 
no rage.
No one got hurt.

Day After Day

Miserable still, though different, 
the morning sun rose into sight.

Inside the hospital I was recovering
from a dailiness quite severe 
something lost somewhere
or too much of me all around 
or not enough.

Like medical Houdinis, the doctors
looked down, smirks
sealed into their sympathy

"If we asked you,
could you talk about this 
more directly?"


             "Could you write it
in these margins? 
Is it rhythmic?"

            "Does it have sound?"

it has
repeating sounds, flashes and strikes.

             "It has two parts then, 
the facts and the flow; 
numbers and voices.
Would you like to make a recording?"


I’d like to make amythyst


I'm getting my PhD in clouds

                   I don't care
the way she did
hanging her desires
on knitting needles
                 knit one   pearl one   cast one off

           Preserving her virginity
in a glass box

            I smash my box with a fire ax

So lock me up

                      I'm silver, I'm rain, I'm gone

Ten Poems, Read Aloud

AS PUBLISHED IN THE PENN Sound Center: Radio Poetique Archive

PENN Sound is a project of the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing at the University of Pennsylvannia (UPENN). The project was launched in 2005 by poet and professor Charles Bernstein, along with Dr. Al Filreis, director of the center, to preserve the writing and performances of poets and to encourage new work. The Radio Poetique archive hosts recordings of poets who appeared on the Brooklyn-based poetry radio show, Radio Poetique, from 2003 - 2007.

A Picture of You



Getting to the Whale

The Spell

A Diary and Two Letters: Day After Day


Busy Isolation

By the Highway on Foot

Arctic Circle; Meteorologist

One Poem: Animals


One by one the animals disappeared
either shot or destroying each other
or owned by banks or the military,
the short dog, the eagle mean
and not giving over,
the terrible melancholic deer.

I admired their efforts in the face of apocalypse
and so lined up my inner animals
in a similar formation:
the happy stupid one, the cheater,
the practicing intellectual,
the yogini, the softball champion—

They looked pretty good together,
a nice cross-section of society
so I fixed myself a scotch
and smoked cigars Washington-style
and laughed from deep under my pubic bones
where my phantom penis nervously waited.

Once gathered this way
they acted like union officials
out back on their breaks
cigarettes burning
in solidarity with the sunset: one by one
they raised their hands over their hearts—

I grew up with animals, you know.

I always needed to rescue something.
I never liked lace
the troubling gaps masquerading as completions,
and I never liked spring branches,
that dripped with rain
then became dry—

There must be order.
Fold clothes neatly
and put them in drawers.
Use make-up, mow the lawn.
Eat right.
The body gracious as a butler—

As if nothing had happened
someone put out her cigarette
and sad as a Chihuahua
said, "Heavy rustling of needles. Uplifted branches—
their shapes offer them up
but then they struggle against their shape—"

—no one speaks like that

I turned away.
When I looked back
she was gone
like the animals. No!
"When I looked back she was laughing,"

Yes, like that,
as though she actually
saw something in the trees
like a sign fortune tellers had posted
giving up their charade:
be prepared for no answer

or maybe,
be prepared for I.V.s and a crowd in the ward
an approximation
of a conclusion— a body’s knowledge here and there
then changed into
anything else—

One Poem: Favorite Restaurant


you keep trying to get it right


tonight’s menu on the placemate again

a sweat-crusted "what?"
he’s just happy to see you—

Jean’s spelled an S.O.S. in white tape
in her loft windows
two letters short of a message

He runs his hand down your back
such a huge prize
you order a hamburger,
Moon separated from Jean’s building
electricity separated from her air conditioner
both joined

in a relationship of absence—

Real estate over love

real estate


Loneliness lives

in the mind. Real estate

lives around the body

you chose loneliness

over interrupting love

more poets commit suicide than painters

does this make them less__________ or more _____________?

He would ride naked on a horse

dance samba with brooms

still you look on blankly

it kills you,


Jean paints with the power cut,

he loves you though you sidestep

though you come back to this place

again and again

trying to get it right

its moon and the message

written very nearly

clearly before you—

Bodega: a Sestina


Shit! Out of milk again. The bodega
downstairs is no good, forget it, sells only beer
chips, canned beans, pickled pimento, and smokes
their milk’s always expired, the guy just shrugs
when I ask him how comebrown toothed smile, nods
uh-uh, sure-sure his go-home dumb-ass mumble.

I’ve done that twice I won’t again mumble
cocksucker, how hard is it for bodegas
to sell unexpired milk? Boozers nod
and wink inside and on the street with beers
men in Cuban hats, bottle caps, and shrugs
and wide sweeps of hey! arms wide, fat smokes

what do they talk about all day? Light smokes
at nine a.m. or maybe ten whenever the mumbler
stumbles in to open shop. They smoke, they shrug
hello or turn away, say “fucking car,” bodega
of eternal comment, sponsored by Bud beer
come afternoon they’re slouched in sleepy nods,

but still they know who comes and goes. They nod
sly-eyed, if they like you they’ll give you smokes
or fix your bike, warn you about the milk, suggest beer,
give you a gracious pass at the door, mumble
salut! the end-all cheer of the bodega
when you’re gone forget you with a shrug

eh, whitey. Always wants something. Shrug
off to the back room, pool table, thick with nods,
good shot, cheater! asshole, conyo, bodega
men. In summer, their women come with their smokes,
pull lawn chairs under the one tree, mumble
uh-uh, no way, play salsa, goddamn it, more beer!

shout, shout, eh conyos! turn the music up! more beer!
You know what? Forget the milk I’ll just shrug
if off, coffee’s black, I’ll buy juice, mumble
my thanks, pass the women in their shady chairs, nod
at their young babies, every one of them has smokes
that’s the way it is downstairs, that’s our bodega

where the men crack beers before noon and nod
uh-huh, yeah, damned fucking car, shrug off and smoke,
turn on the transistor, mumble, eh, si, no, eh, shit, okay: bodega.

One Poem: Small Gestures


Mosquito larvae "may be the leading impediment to economic growth in the developing world."—New York Times, July, 2000.


It begins with small understandings,
then rises to the size of Ganesh's phallus.

You are at a dim cafe. Lightning splits the sky.
You are eating spiced olives with someone you desire.
The door is open but she doesn't love you.
A white streak burns into your retinas.
The taste of cumin and paprika salt you with a shriveled pain,
you have bought it and you must pay.

ii) The Mosquito

It begins with a billow of evolutionary hubris,
then sweeps the body with encephalitic fevers.

Larvae hatching in old tires
don't threaten anyone
busy behind their screens.

But she's a democratic insect and she insists;
she sips blood in
to gestate her young,

for this gift she repays in flames
shooting in yellow fever, malaria,
a vast swelling, transnational,
the sting and buzz of generous disease.

The democratic insect. Fair exchange.

iii) Mayan Scribes: the Red Murals

It began with a talent for figures, gestures,
then grew into civil war.

In victory, the Mayan scribes were drunk with their King,

wrapped in long scrolls of their work
and rolling around the palace.

In defeat their fingers were ritually broken
in front of their enemies,
their genitals gashed
and their fingernails torn out.

In the Mayan dictionary "fingernails" means lament:

"I have no fingernails; I am no longer the person I used to be.
I no longer have power or authority
or money. I am no one."


It begins with simple gestures,
then swells to the size of Nietzche's madness.

The mosquito either infects
or it doesn't.

The scribes are either drunk
or they are dead.

She either loves you
or she is lightning.

There is great thirst, even as the bloom is on the larvae.

Three Poems: Panic and Work, Gutting Trout, Silence


Panic and Work

Buicks and Chevys stand parked
in the Goodyear factory parking lot
though their restless atoms whiz;

the bushes don’t care, snagged
as they are on junk-- rotting insulation 
like awkward bolts of flesh;

hobos pace the fence 
between the railway tracks and the trucks,
walking in the leaves’ mulch and their
smell --

inside the factory, punchcards hold on a moment
in the teeth of the machine
in sexual noise, a joy;

but flustered by mental nonsense 
one machinist drove home at high speed
with the Maritime salt-marshes calling in gibberish,
wanting to veer into the snowbank on either side of the road
and hide under his bed.

His work ethic offered no comfort:

no one inside the factory would accept
"Buicks parked at senseless angles"
for signs of ‘team spirit’;

nor would the parking lot
contain his obvious struggle--
neatly parked in their defining spaces
Buicks and Chevys stand row on row.

gutting trout author joelle hann.gif

Gutting Trout

Roughly the flesh resists
then the head pops open
a silver-red rose forced to flower.

I’m glad you are dead.
Your deflated fins lay against my palm
like a hushed-up baby;
each of your speckles
once part of the black and yellow lake
flash like codes.

Killing was like a game, but it wasn’t.
The bolted handle of the knife
clubbed you dead. I used to watch his expert hands.
I learned to kill 
by splitting myself in two-- 
one shrieking, as the blade 
shrank into the skin,
the other standing back in a smirk--

Your filmy lake-water back
slaps the sink,
my father’s knife seems to know you.
              --here’s the white bucket for your innards
              the silver tap to flush you out.

"Intestine," my mother says. "Digestion. Waste." 
I scratch your black intestine with my thumbnail
'til each vertebrae is articulate.

Then I open you 
without disgust, adult-like:
lost are all the organs that propelled you towards me; 
I relate to you perfectly. Your scoured inside
is my ideal self, gutted and clean

no mess in my all-reflecting eyes.


Let there be silence in the overmind,
exhaust the stigmas, the busy enigma 
of being, as it's silenced
In the closed handwriting of some mad women.

Others may mark their way like dogs,
trickling piss from their excited hearts 
over city shrubs and parking meters.

Q: How does a life unfold? 
A: Each day without a security guard.

Initial life questions hit across the throat 
and give birth to more questions.

(As I write this, wasps crawl in and out of the light socket
so above me is the sound of struggle.)

To prevent more questions I've transferred my life
into photographs. I look like a medium-brown woman (summer)
with drooping eyes. (She of all people looks like she is posing.)

But it isn't summer yet it is spring (I'm rushing)
lilacs on my desk perfume with a mauve flourish
like little groups of microphones
that would not be photographed.

The trees in the photos of the trees
seemed farther away than when I saw them out the window.
I miss them, turned back
to a living wild and without me.

Q: why me?
A: no particular reason

Breasting the Waves: On Writing and Healing: Book Review


Joanne Arnott in Breasting the Waves: On Writing and Healing writes with great effort, feeling her way toward expression and sense without giving her life away as if it were in the “miscellaneous” box at a garage sale. Arnott begins and ends with her story of being held hostage and beaten by a man she met on her way to university. The meaning of “hostage” (but not “victim”) is questioned over and over in the book as Arnott remembers growing up female, Métis and abused. She approaches herself respectfully. The essays blur seminar-style information and fiction-style narrative; but straight fiction might have allowed her more intensity. Also, the title of this book undermines Arnott’s seriousness with an unnecessary play on words. And while I loved the shape and feel of the cover, the image seemed wrong; at first glance it made me skeptical of the contents.

My Messy Bedroom: Book Review


I like good deals but sometimes a good tip will serve the same purpose. I was happy to find in Josey Vogels’s My Messy Bedroom (Véhicule Press) an intriguing tip on buying bras. In the chapter called “Booby Trap” she answers the question I’ve always had: how do you find a bra that does the job it’s supposed to? My mother tended to shoo me into the teen section and leave me there while she stood on the sidelines with her handbag. The bargain aisles of Eaton’s and the Bay haven’t taught me much about how a bra should fit or what it should feel like when it’s doing its job. The chapter’s opening sentence gives the store’s coordinates: “Thee Lingerie Shoppe on Hamilton Street in Regina” and the next time I’m in Saskatchewan I plan to drop by. Vogels’s chatter in favour of well-fitted bras is worth reading too, and helped banish the sugar-high feeling I got from reading her “fun” journalistic prose.

Lonesome Monsters: Book Review


Speaking of jarring but effective writing, Bud Osborn’s Lonesome Monsters (Anvil) successfully dramatizes the harsher side of urban life. This book, though it doesn’t break new ground in form or content, depicts the Main-and-Hastingses of North America in unpretentious and straightforward poems. The modesty with which each poem is constructed underscores the sadness and despair that their characters feel. Osborn’s sense of humour and his portraits of violence, exploitation and heartache, easy to overdo, survive my distaste for melodrama and even survive the text’s unflattering typeface. Apparently Osborn’s been writing for twenty-five years. Where has he been all this time?

Self: Book Review II


Since my review of Yann Martel’s novel Self (Knopf) in Geist No. 21, I have retrieved it from my bedside table and read it to the end. It’s an attractive hardcover with a creamy yellow sleeve and the story, which stumped me at first, enthralled me when I continued where I left off. The way the character is initiated into sex, academics, travel, work and love is moving and often amusingly perceptive. I was so transported into her world that I thought about her even when I wasn’t reading the story, and when it came, the much-discussed ending jarred me as it was meant to. Self is worth pursuing past the sluggish part near the beginning; it is sure to win big literary prizes.

Speaking of jarring but effective writing, Bud Osborn’s Lonesome Monsters (Anvil) successfully dramatizes the harsher side of urban life. This book, though it doesn’t break new ground in form or content, depicts the Main-and-Hastingses of North America in unpretentious and straightforward poems. The modesty with which each poem is constructed underscores the sadness and despair that their characters feel. Osborn’s sense of humour and his portraits of violence, exploitation and heartache, easy to overdo, survive my distaste for melodrama and even survive the text’s unflattering typeface. Apparently Osborn’s been writing for twenty-five years. Where has he been all this time?